Student projects at CIBER

We are always interested to support students that want to perform their honors, masters or PhDs at CIBER. We are searching for highly motivated, hard working students that are ready to become part of our team and which are able to work in a cross disciplinary context. We offer a friendly and supportive working environment and state of the art laboratories and equipment.

Below we provide you with very short descriptions of possible projects. If you are interested to work on honeybees, please feel free to Contact us. .

Seminal fluid: A magic liquid!

Our work indicates the presence of three functional groups of proteins within seminal fluid that are hypothesized to:

  1. keep sperm alive
  2. build up an immune system within the ejaculate or
  3. are agents of sexual conflict.
We now want to perform field based experiments to test whether these predicted effects can be observed in the field, to quantify natural variation of these traits and to perform further biochemical work to identify specific proteins that are responsable for specific effects.

The honeybee immune system

We want to biochemically identify and compare the immune system of feral bees with those currently bred by Western Australian beekeepers. The efficiency of the honeybee immune defense can be measured in several ways, for example as encapsulation response or by measuring the activity of specific proteins that are involved in immune defense. Apart from quantifying immunocompetence among Western Australian honeybees, honeybees can also be infected artificially, either with real parasites or with bacterial cell wall fragments in order to initiate a immune response. This allows quantifying the bees potential to counter infections. Finally, artificial insemination techniques allow controlled breeding designs with bees, offering the possibility of estimating the heritability of immune characteristics, and artificial selection for bees with increased or decreased immunity for further experiments.

Are diseased bees able to pollinate as well as healthy bees?

Honeybees are susceptible to numerous diseases. Some diseases are known to affect the ability of bees to forage, orient, and carry pollen. We are looking for a person that would experimentally infect honeybees with a very common disease agent under controlled conditions and determine whether the changes in bee behavior caused by the disease affect the ability of the workers to pollinate.

Fit to be a king ?

Unlike bees, termites have kings who help during colony establishment and survive for the lifetime of the colony, mating regularly with the queen. Partners are chosen for life after a brief interlude of courtship behaviour known as “tandem running” in which the male follows the female while touching her abdomen with his antennae. Because dispersing females are the rarer sex in most termite species, females should theoretically be choosy and males should compete with each other for females. In this project we will explore the morphological, genetic, and pheromonal characteristics of winning and losing males in pair formation trials. Find out what it takes to become king!

For more information contact Dr. Tamara Hartke (tamara.hartke[at]uwa.edu.au).

Is sperm a nanotechnological master piece?


[click picture to enlarge]

In collaboration with the Centre for Strategic Nano Fabrication and the Centre for Microscopy Characterisation and Analysis we want to understand the role of the ordered nano arrays (see picture) in sperm using electron microscopy and perfom further experimental work to reveal their biological relevance and composition.

Exploring nanoparticles as biomarkers in evolutionary biology

Honeybee reproduction is quite spectacular, as queens only mate at the beginning of their life, during one or very few mating flights. Following this they are able to store millions of sperm for years, and use them in very economic ways to fertilize millions of eggs. Currently there is very little information how social insect queens are able to keep sperm alive for years, how active sperm remain during storage, and how queens are able to economize their use of sperm during egg fertilization. This research project explores the possibility of developing nanoparticles as markers in an attempt to unravel this phenomenon by tagging sperms. The project will involve synthesis of magnetic nanoparticles and semiconductor quantum dots as markers, exposure to the bee research team in CIBER and training at the nanotechnology and biology interface. This project is done in collaboration with Iyer Swaminathan

Epigenetics of termite cast determination

Termites have an extremely high degree of developmental plasticity and an individual has the potential to develop into a soldier, worker, or one of several types of reproductive depending on the environment within the colony. But how does this single genetic code allow development of several very different forms? We are exploring how epigenetics, the differential regulation of particular parts of an individual's genome, operates in termites and how genes influence a termite's developmental fate. This project will examine DNA methylation patterns in Mastotermes darwiniensis or use RNAi to explore the effects of altered gene expression in Coptotermes acinaciformis. For more information contact Dr. Tamara Hartke (tamara.hartke[at]uwa.edu.au).

Do Seminal fluid proteins affect sperm quality in salmon?

Males of many species respond to a variety of social cues by making rapid adjustments to sperm quality (e.g presence of a female or a competitor). How this adjustment occurs remains largely unknown. Using a series of innovative field experiments in New Zealand chinook salmon, we will determine how ejaculate quality adjusts in relation to social status, and the specific proteins in the seminal fluid that may be responsible for such adjustments. For more information contact Dr. Patrice Rosengrave (patrice.rosengrave[at]otago.ac.nz).

Biochemical warfare on the protein level in mussles

Sperm competition occurs when ejaculates from two or more males compete to fertilize a female’s eggs. Males often respond to the intensity of sperm competition by providing more competitive ejaculates. One possible way to do this is to alter seminal fluid, which is a glandular secretion made up of soluble proteins. Modern biochemical methods allow to identify the molecular setup of seminal fluid and to unravel the biological functioning of these molecules. Although we have a lot of information about sperm competition on the phenotypic level, much less is known how sperm wars are fought on the proteomic level. To address this problem we will determine whether males modify their protein content in seminal fluid in response to the presence of a competing male. To do this we use the the mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis , a broadcast spawning marine invertebrate that experiences very different levels of sperm competition in nature. We will collect seminal fluid from males and use comparative proteomics such as DIGE and mass spectrometry to identify proteins that change in abundance in response to the presence of competing males. We will also use experimental approaches to test how changes in the proteomic make up of seminal fluid influences fertilisation success. This work is done in collaboration with Jon Evans.

Something a bit different: Sexual conflicts in bull ants?

Bull ants are a great model system to study the evolution of insect societies because they present many basal traits to the social Hymenoptera (the bees, ants and wasps). Bull ant colonies are usually small in size, queens and workers show little morphological differentiation and chemical communication seems relatively simple compared to other species. Recent work tried to provide some preliminary insights into the behavior and reproduction of these ants, but many aspects of their mating biology remain unknown. This project intends to start filling this gap, focusing in a locally occurring Bull ant population. Two main questions will be investigated: 1. Test whether the possible presence of queen multiple mating has initiated pre- or postcopulatory sexual conflicts in these ants. 2. To understand the molecular basis of such potential conflicts using genetic markers such as microsatellites or biochemical tools such as metabolomics (GC-MS) or proteomics.

Collaborating Partners